Capitol Alert

Shutdown 101: You’ll get your mail, but reschedule that Yosemite trip

What happens when the government shuts down?

The world won't end if Washington can't find a way to pass a funding bill before this weekend. That's the truth about a government "shutdown": the government doesn't shut down.
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The world won't end if Washington can't find a way to pass a funding bill before this weekend. That's the truth about a government "shutdown": the government doesn't shut down.

It’s not a good weekend to plan that road trip for a wintertime twirl on the ice under Half Dome in Yosemite National Park.

The prospect of a government shutdown means the park gate – and the vendor who’d rent you those ice skates – might be closed for business as of Saturday, unless Congress can strike a deal to keep the federal workforce running.

As of Thursday, leaders at federal agencies said they’re still hoping lawmakers can overcome differences to keep their doors open after this weekend. The hang-up appears to be over whether a deal for a new spending bill should also extend immigration protections for people known as “Dreamers” whose parents brought them to the U.S. at a young age.

“We fully expect the government to remain open, however in the event of a shutdown, national parks will remain as accessible as possible,” a spokesman for the National Parks Service said.

Still, agencies are making plans just in case they have to send some workers home. In California, 140,000 civilians work for the federal government.

Here’s a look at how the shutdown might affect you and the government services you use.

Your mail and Social Security checks will still come

The Postal Service has its own funding and won’t be affected by a shutdown. The Social Security Administration and Medicare also are regarded as critical agencies that would not close their doors in a shutdown, so those benefits should not be interrupted.

Closing out America’s best idea

A government shutdown could keep visitors out of California’s 28 national parks and monuments, from the bubbling mud pots of Bumpass Hell in Lassen National Park to the desert forest of Joshua Tree National Park.

That said, the shutdown would affect only parts of the park that require staffing, such as full-service restrooms and concessions that have some federal employees. Unlike past shutdowns, the parks service says it is trying to maintain some access for visitors. Its public statements on its plans are unclear and officials from California parks did not release more details on Thursday about whether they’d be able to open their gates.

The beaches and trails of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area will be open, shutdown or not, and the spokeswoman for the parks service said roads to some national parks would remain open.

Veterans can go to hospitals, but their claims will stall

The Department of Veterans Affairs has a special line of funding that will keep all of its hospitals open and almost all of its medical employees on duty.

“So in the event of a government shutdown, (the Veterans Health Administration) would continue full operations. In addition, even in the event that there is a shutdown, 95.5 percent of VA employees would come to work, and most aspects of VA’s operations would not be impacted,” said VA spokesman Curt Cashour.

But a separate branch of the VA that assesses disability claims would be affected by a shutdown. That means that people who filed claims or appeals regarding their benefits might face a longer delay in their wait for the government to address their claims.

“There are more claims coming in every day. There is a tremendous backlog,” said Jeffrey Cox, executive director of the American Federation of Government employees, the largest union for federal workers.

You still have jury duty

Federal courts are expected to remain open, at least through Feb. 9. The Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts told the National Law Journal that it has enough funding on hand to keep courts open unless a shutdown drags on for several weeks.

Military at the ready?

During the last government shutdown in 2013, military bases around the country held press conferences detailing how they’d sustain critical services while tens of thousands of their civilian employees were forced to take unpaid days off. That meant closing on-base grocery stores and even furloughing civilians who work in military hospitals.

The Bee called officials from three West Coast military bases and none had received a plan outlining how a shutdown would affect their installations. They don’t expect an interruption.

Which federal workers will stay home?

In the last shutdown, about 850,000 federal employees were out of work and unpaid for 16 days. Standard and Poor’s later estimated that the shutdown cost $24 billion in lost economic activity.

This time, workers and federal agencies are still trying to figure out which employees would be considered critical and called to work if Congress fails to make a deal. The Justice Department released a statement saying most of its employees will be called to work, but even it was unclear about whether some would be told to stay home.

Cox of AFGE said a near shutdown in 2014 and repeated congressional brinkmanship over debt limits during the Obama administration may be leading people to assume that the government will stay open next week.

“It’s very, very disorganized, maybe because we’ve been at the brink of the cliff so many times,” Cox said. “We are telling our members this shutdown looks like it’s going to be real. Congress is playing chicken right up to the wire, and members need to be prepared for it.”

Adam Ashton: 916-321-1063, @Adam_Ashton. Sign up for state worker news alerts at sacbee.com/newsletters.

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